One of the first things you learn about on the journey to natural hair is moisture. Moisture, moisture, moisture. Proper moisturizing techniques and application. Moisture comes from water-based products that can be taken up by the hair. Moisturized hair is happy hair. Oils don’t moisturize the hair (exception: coconut oil). Moisturized hair makes your life easier,and can help reduce credit card debt. Moisture helps prevent breakage and encourage length retention.
While all of these things are generally accepted as true, I have come to realize there are some key distinctions between hydrating the hair and moisturizing it. Distinctions that result in us likely jumbling up terminology, which leads to confusion about what products are used for what. You probably feel as though you’ve got a good handle on how to moisturize your hair, given the plethora of information available about the topic — but are you properly hydrating it?
According to the Handbook of Cosmetic Science and Technology,
Hydrating substances are used in cosmetic products to reduce moisture loss from the product during use and to increase the moisture content in material that is in contact with the product. This function is generally performed by hygroscopic substances or humectants, which are able to absorb water from the surroundings.
I’m sure we’re all pretty well versed in what humectants are, but what the heck is a “hygroscopic substance?” Well, hygroscopy is the ability of a substance to attract and hold water molecules from the surrounding environment, through either absorption (taking in), or adsorption (sticking to, as in humectants). It’s beginning to look like moisturizing the hair is actually hydrating it. If that is the case, what the heck is moisturizing?
According to the Textbook of Cosmetic Dermatology (work with me — many of the researched principles for skincare often apply to the hair), moisturizers are considered to be substances that actively impair the evaporation of water. Therefore, moisturizing the hair often involves the use of emollients like butters and oils to lock water content into the hair.
Does this mean moisturizing is actually hydrating, and and sealing is actually moisturizing? Somewhat. Agents that hydrate the hair are solely responsible for the uptake of water into the hair (things like panthenol, amino acids, certain vitamins, and water) or the attachment of water to the hair from the environment (glycerin, honey, other humectants). Moisturizers can (and often do) include hydrating ingredients and humectants, but they also include emollients (butters and oils) that do not penetrate, and are able to perform the function we refer to as “sealing” the hair.
So what does this mean for your current hair regimen?
If your hair feels chronically dry, wonky, brittle, rough, or just not like itself, and your products aren’t working (even spritzing water and and other concoctions doesn’t help), your issue may be hydration levels in your hair. The most common advice for those hair ailments is clarifying the hair and scalp, prayer, and deep conditioning. But what if even after all that, you’re still having hair drama?
There is absolutely no need to throw out all your products and start over. Just examine the products and your processes a little differently. Are you properly hydrating your hair? Maximum hydration can be achieved through water-based, amino acid, and vitamin enriched pre-poo treatments (think watery leave-ins and conditioners), the use of leave-in conditioners, refresher products, and through deep conditioning. Moisture and hydration retention can be achieved through using any number of lotions, hair milks, moisture butters, or pure butters and oils.
If you’re interested in my powerhouse hydrating pre-poo treatment, click here!
Do you feel as if you’re properly hydrating your hair? Fill us in on your current regime below!